As Deadlines Loom, Doctors Complain Of Overlapping Digital Systems

Controversy has accompanied recent overhauls and changes to the medical system in the United States. The switch to electronic health records (or EHRs) and other digital systems seem to be at the heart of much of the controversy.

Recent articles about the safety and security of EHRs have questioned how ready hospitals and doctors are for the switch from traditional, paper-based record keeping. Another recent study, focusing on emergency room records, showed that the more designers improved the ability of EHR software to recognize unapproved abbreviations used by doctors (for things like medications or symptoms), the more doctors used them. That increased the risk of the notes being misread by another doctor or pharmacist.

However, patient safety and security wasn’t the main concern behind a recent letter from the American Medical Association (AMA) to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), urging government regulators to ease impending deadlines–and, more specifically, the financial penalties tied to them. The AMA letter, addressed to DHHS Acting Administrator Marilyn B. Tavenner, says that doctors are facing a “storm” of overlapping regulations and deadlines from government mandates.

The letter focused mostly on the fines and penalties facing physicians who do not meet deadlines for new electronic drug prescribing systems, EHRs, and a program known as the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), which pays doctors for reporting information about the impact of some kinds of treatment paid for by Medicare.

The letter states that the quality of medical care could be hurt by overlapping systems, and uses the example of a situation where a doctor receives a payment and a penalty at the same time, because of the same program. According to the letter, this sort of confusion and financial strain could keep some doctors from wanting to update to EHRs or other systems on time–even at the cost of patient safety.

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